Close Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

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Chris Bohjalian is one of my favorite authors, so I was particularly pleased when I was provided advance access to his new novel, “Close Eyes, Hold Hands.” Though the protagonist is a teenaged girl, don’t confuse this for YA literature.*

Emily Shepard is your average under-achieving suburban high-schooler, until the nuclear power plant in her town melts down. Compounding matters, her father, is being singled out as the individual directly at fault. The plot nicely combines a coming of age story with the semi-apocalyptic backdrop of nuclear disaster, in a format that is written for adults. There is adventure without any skimping on the character development. One of the things I enjoy most about Bohjalian as an author, is his ability to write his characters in a way that is believable. Emily comes to life on the pages; she is difficult, irrational and a character I liked spending time with.

Clocking in at a little under 300 pages, I don’t think I would have liked any more or less. While Emily, as the the protagonist, is front and center, it would have been nice for some of the other characters to be a little bit more fleshed out. Yet, at the same time it works– the story is being told from a somewhat self-centered teen, and life becomes very transient following the accident.

One random thought: As someone who does not have a scientific background (I still don’t understand the how microwaves work…), I struggled with understanding what a nuclear meltdown looks like and how it happens. I get that there was an explosion, radioactive fallout, etc but how does that happen? What are the mechanics? Spent some time on Wikipedia afterwards which was helpful, but an appendix or some type of illustration would be cool.

Available for pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves July 8th.

xo The Book Bird

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy for the purpose of review via the publisher.

*In fact, based on some of the subject matter, I would definitely not recommend this to younger YA readers.

What Has Become of You by Jan Elizabeth Watson – a Review

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High-school teacher Vera Lundy is a character you will pity. A forty-something woman, she is clearly book smart but lacking in confidence and good judgment. Having recently moved out of her mother’s home, she has accepted a temporary position at a prestigious all girls school in Maine where she is to teach English literature. It is there that she first meets Jensen Willard. Somewhat of an introverted misfit, it is only when Vera assigns journal writing assignments that it becomes clear that all is not as it seems. When a series of shocking murders occur, Vera finds herself more involved than she would have ever expected.

I debated over whether to give Jan Elizabeth Watson’s “What Has Become of You,” 3 or 3.5 stars. Watson does a wonderful job of portraying characters who you don’t quite love, but feel invested in. The premise she sets up is intriguing, and I wish she would have done more with her characters. Part coming of age novel (oddly enough more so for Vera than anyone else), part thriller- not deciding to firmly be one of the other is where the book’s biggest flaw lies. (And personally, I would have preferred the latter).

Overall, a good read for those that like novels like Kimberly McCreight’s “Reconstructing Amelia” and enjoy tales of menacing, plotting private school girls. Available for pre-order from Amazon.com  and on shelves May 1.

xo The Book Bird

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy for the purpose of review courtesy of the publisher.

Sleeping Beauty Grows Up – “While Beauty Slept” by Elizabeth Blackwell

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Elizabeth Blackwell’s “While Beauty Slept” is a rich re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty story that we all know. Told from the point of view of Elise, who starts her life as a lowly castle servant in the kingdom of St. Elsip, Blackwell’s creations blend beautifully with those we already may be familiar with. What I particularly enjoyed was the love and attention that Blackwell gives to each of her characters. Elise, Rose, Queen Lenore, Malefic- I mean, Millicent– I felt like I knew each of them like friends by the end of the novel. The author does a nice job of walking the line between the aspects of the story we have come to expect (ex. the spinning wheel), and much more grown up themes. Though I would not describe “While Beauty Slept” as a coming of age novel, it touches on themes that far exceed your traditional fairytale; instead of the kids’ version, we get adult ambition, love (not just the instant-at-first-sight kind), greed, envy, and revenge. Don’t pick this one expecting fairies, magic potions, etc, “While Beauty Slept” almost reads more like historical fiction.

 Except for being a little too heavy handed with foreshadowing about all of the “horrible things to come” and the “curse that hung over everyone,” Blackwell’s writing is clean and evenly paced. I did find myself putting the book down around the 40% mark for a little break, but when I picked it up again it was finished in a day long sitting.  On the long side (400+ pages), I did not find myself wanting less or more and was very satisfied by the conclusion. The writing is descriptive enough to help paint each scene without bogging the reader down in too much detail; trust me once you have a mental picture of St. Elsip each scene comes to life in vivid color.

Overall I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys classic stories with a twist on the new, though I would argue that what Blackwell creates is a new story in its own right. If you liked “The Kingdom of Little Wounds” (read our review here) you should definitely pick this one up.

Available from Amazon.com.

 xo The Book Bird 

p.s. You should definitely listen to this song on repeat while you’re reading- it got stuck in my head and totally set the atmosphere!

“A Circle of Wives” by Alice LaPlante, a Review

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3.5 out of 5 stars.

Having just read an advance copy of Jennifer Murphy’s “I Love You More” I was curious to see how Alice LaPlante would approach her novel, “A Circle of Wives,” about three women who all discover they’ve been “married” to the same, recently deceased man. (Side note, men with multiple wives… maybe these two novels should be treated as cautionary tales; in both the husband is no longer in the land of the living.) Both books focus on unraveling the mystery of the husband’s death, though LaPlante takes a different path than Murphy- choosing to narrate her novel from the perspective of each individual wife, and the young, junior detective assigned to the murder case.

What struck me as funny about both “A Circle of Wives” and “I Love You More,” is that each novel was less about the relationship between husband and wife, and more about the inter-dynamics of “the other women.” LaPlante paints believeable scenarios and encounters that pull the reader in. I did not think I was going to like her naive detective, but found that she was a character that grew on me by the end of the novel. I also appreciate that she gets her own story arc and satisfying resolution.

All of the female characters in LaPlante’s novel get equal treatment and attention. Though initially I feared that the cast was a little stereotypical (the “hippie wife”, the “first” wife, etc), I was pleasantly surprised at how they developed. If anyone gets the short-end of the stick, it’s Dr. John Taylor, who is at the center of this circle of wives. Though we get a good idea of who he was, or at least how he portrayed himself, he’s never quite fully in focus.

Overall, I really enjoyed “A Circles of Wives”- though would love to one day read a novel with this premise told from the man’s POV. (Seriously, I would love to know what makes someone think it’s a good idea to take on three wives…)

I got my copy of “A Circle of Wives” from the NY Public Library, where it is currently on shelves, or you can purchase yours from Amazon.com.

xo The Book Bird 

I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy – a Review

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2013 was the year of the dysfunctional marriage novel (see: Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, Where’d You Go Bernadette), and it looks like 2014 is shaping up to be the year of the polygamous/polyamorous marriage plot. I just finished Jennifer Murphy’s, “I Love You More,” and am eagerly awaiting Alice LaPlante’s “Circle of Wives.”

Told for the most part from the perspective of twelve year old Picasso Lane (can we talk about how fabulous that name is for a second?), daughter of the recently deceased Oliver Lane,  “I Love You More” slowly unravels the mystery of how Oliver managed to amass a trio of wives and separate families. Oh, and don’t forget of course, who is responsible for his recent murder.  One of the most charming protagonists/junior detective characters I’ve run across, Picasso is wise beyond her years but in a way that is believable and charming.

While not quite a thriller, this mystery moves at a steady pace and its resolution left me feeling satisfied. The plot can feel predictable in some places, but twists and turns in ways that keep the story fresh. For a novel of many characters, I felt Murphy did a good job of giving them each their own individual traits and voices (despite an interesting narrative choice—you’ll see). The only person who I wish I had better understood was Oliver, but perhaps that’s the issue at the heart of the book anyway…

A solid 3.5 out of 5 stars. Available for pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves June 17th, 2014.

xo The Book Bird

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this novel for review courtesy of the publisher.

After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman, A Review

Hi Friends- sorry we’ve been a little slow with the updates so far this year. Life has been crazier than usual, and we’re a little off pace. Sad face. Just wrapped up Laura Lippman’s latest, “After I’m Gone.” Neither here nor there, it was not my favorite Lippman novel. “After I’m Gone” focuses on the mysterious disappearance of a suburban husband and the impact it has on the lives of those he has left behind. Told from the perspective of his wife, daughters and mistress (to name a few), time goes back and forth from the present to the 1970s. Evenly paced with smooth writing, the plot never really seems to build to a crescendo, but yet maintains a steady momentum forward.

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While I enjoyed the novel, it was definitely the weakest work of Lippman’s that I’ve read. Her female characters were reasonably well-developed and fleshed out, her male characters get no love. Felix, Sandy, and all of the men in the Brewer women’s lives are boring and totally flat. Side note: I don’t know how she does it, but somehow Lippman creates characters I can’t stand, yet I’m fascinated and can’t stop reading (ex. Michelle… man…).

Those who are fans of her previous work will most likely pick this one up- my recommendation is to grab it from the library.

A solid 3 out of 5 stars.

Available for purchase from Amazon.

xo The Book Bird 

“Savage Girl” by Jean Zimmerman – A Review

17987214 Jean Zimmerman’s “Savage Girl” has so much going for it, right from the get-go:

1) It’s set in New York City during the Gilded Age, my absolute favorite setting for novels in NYC.
2) The cover art is FIERCE. I mean look at Savage Girl.
3) Our narrator is delightfully unreliable, incredibly wealthy, and has a family that can only be kindly described as eccentric.

Weighing in at a solid 400+ pages, Savage Girl is a little slow to start, but soon you’ll be flying through it. From the silver mines of the west, to the debutante dance halls of the east, what sounds like a re-telling of the “Pygmalion” story quickly turns into a fast-paced mystery. While on a cross-country trip with his “old money” family, Hugo Delegate, Harvard student and current drop out, encounters Savage Girl—a teenaged girl, “raised by wolves” and barely domesticated. The Delegate Family, with intentions that cannot necessarily be described as selfless, bring Savage Girl into their world of luxury and excess. But far from being the docile pet  they expect, it soon becomes clear that Savage Girl, whose name is Bronwyn, actually may have her own agenda. In addition, it appears she seems to leave a trail of bodies wherever she goes… As Hugo finds himself becoming more involved, dare I say, obsessed, with his “sister” Bronwyn, it also becomes clear that he may also not be what he seems.

The highlight of this novel has to be Zimmerman’s characters. They are beautifully fleshed out and vividly fill the pages. Hugo is self-interested, a little bit whiny, and makes for a fun narrator as the reader is never quite sure what to believe. Bronwyn is surprising, strong, and quite believable, despite her outlandish origin story.

My only complaint is that I felt like the ending was a bit rushed- we spend roughly 350 pages on a wonderful adventure, only to have everything be wrapped up and tied with a bow in the last 50. Don’t get me wrong- the ending is satisfying, but it did not feel like it had the same depth and richness as the rest of the novel. I’m sure people will be of divided opinion re: the epilogue, and I’m eager to hear the discussion.

Available for pre-order on Amazon, and on shelves March 6th.

xo The Book Bird 

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this book via the publisher for review.